Millions of people tuned in to the hit CBS primetime drama “Dallas” 32 years ago today to find out who shot J.R Ewing known as J.R, the one people loved to hate.
J.R. had been shot on the season-ending episode the previous March, and probably stands as television’s most famous cliffhangers. I can’t think of another which could compete. It was a long eight months. The mystery was solved on November 21st, identifying Kristin Shepard J.R.’s sister in law and his former mistress as the culprit.
The CBS television network aired the first five-episode pilot season of “Dallas” in 1978 and it went on to run for 12 full-length seasons. It was the first show of its kind and correctly dubbed as a “primetime soap opera”.
The show revolved around the relationship between two Texas oil families—the wealthy, successful Ewing family and the continually down-on-their-luck Barnes family. Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes family patriarchs, former partners were locked in a long feud over oil fields Barnes claimed had been stolen by Ewing—A modern and probably more sophisticated version of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys (1863-1891).
To make it all more interesting, Ewing’s youngest son Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Barnes’ daughter Pam (Victoria Principal) had married, linking the battling clans even more closely. The character of J.R. Ewing, Bobby’s older brother, a greedy, conniving, womanizing scoundrel, was played by Larry Hagman.
Since J.R. had many enemies, audiences were challenged to guess who was responsible for his attempted murder. That summer, the question “Who Shot J.R.?” entered the national lexicon. The question became a popular t-shirt slogan, which successfully heightened the anticipation of the soap’s third season.
During those long 8 months there was reportedly a contract dispute with Hagman that was finally settled and the season was delayed because of a Screen Actors Guild strike. When the show was finally aired, the episode revealing J.R.’s shooter became one of television’s most watched shows, with an audience of 83 million people in the U.S. alone, with 76 percent of all U.S. televisions tuned in to thw show. This contributed to putting “Dallas” into greater worldwide circulation as well as making the use of cliffhangers in television a given.
As is typical in the world of television soap opera there was another interesting plot twist in September 1986, when fans learned that the entire previous season, in which main character Bobby Ewing had died, was just a dream of Pam’s.
The show’s writers had killed the Bobby character off because Patrick Duffy had decided to leave the show. When he agreed to return, they featured him stepping out of the shower on the season-ending cliffhanger, and then were forced the next season to explain his sudden reappearance.
The last episode of “Dallas” aired on May 3, 1991. There was a spin-off show, “Knots Landing,” aired from December 27, 1979 until May 13, 1993.